RNLI upgrades its national WAN network to connect all stations in the UK and Ireland
Written by: Laurence Doe | Published:
Image: RNLI, Nathan Williams

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), the charity which saves lives at sea, has connected and upgraded the national wide area network (WAN) of all its 237 lifeboat stations in a partnership with communications and integration provider KCOM.

Lifeboat stations have deployed Cisco routers, switches and wireless access points (APs) after identifying them as being cost effective and providing all of the necessary functionality through the KCOM technical team. The new, fully managed service is supporting ongoing plans to make its lifesaving work more accessible to volunteers, colleagues and supporters by providing wireless APs at the lifeboat stations. These are all connected to the Poole HQ.

“Upgrading the connectivity has really enabled some sites to improve their agility,” said Kathryn Askew-Smith, RNLI project manager at KCOM. “For example, one site used to take an hour to upload their on-boat video footage whereas on the new connection it took a couple of minutes.”

KCOM is now working with the RNLI to roll out plans for the Republic of Ireland, which is due to be connected by Autumn 2016. There are 38 sites in Ireland and, according to Askew-Smith, the project is “well underway”.

“We have worked with a new supplier and have used not only a combination of ADSL and FTTC technologies but also we provided connectivity via local providers ‘WiMax’ long range wireless services,” explains Askew-Smith.

The project started with Poole HQ receiving two large bandwidth connections with resilient failover and a rollout of over 200 private FTTC and DSL connections happening across the UK, in some of the most remote locations around the British coast.

KCOM has worked with the RNLI to map out the most suitable, cost-effective connectivity for each site based on its location and support requirements and managed and monitored hardware installation. Regional offices are using Cisco routers but for the HQ a custom spec Cisco router has been deployed.

“The primary need was to achieve a minimum download speed,” said Askew-Smith. “Where the FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) service was available, this was provided and we saw substantial improvement.”

“Our aim is to give our station’s staff and volunteers the best service possible," said Steve North, IT Project Manager at the RNLI. "Lifeboat crews and volunteers input the details of lifeboat launches and then upload video footage from their rescues, which can be used for media, training and fundraising. A faster connection helps us to spread the word about the lifesaving work we are doing much more quickly. The RNLI is dedicated to saving lives at sea, and investing in better technology at our lifeboat stations around the coast will help to do this.”

“Speed is vital in all aspects of the RNLI’s work, not just in saving lives but also in raising awareness of the dangers at sea," added Gary Young, executive VP, Mid-Market and Consumer, KCOM. "The Respect the Water campaign has seen unprecedented results in educating the public via its social media channels @RNLI on Twitter and Facebook and being online at all times is now a business imperative. It’s been fascinating working so closely with different areas of the RNLI - ultimately it’s all about people rather than technology, by putting RNLI volunteers first we’ve been able to create a network that’s almost invisible because it works so well.”


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